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Bishopsgate Institute Library

Library of the Week: 25th July : This week we feature the amazing Bishopsgate Institute Library! We chat to Ceri Thompson, Librarian, to find out more about the library and the wonderful collections they have available…

Thank you very much for taking part in our Library of the Week! Please could you tell us a bit more about where you work and what your role is?

Special Collections and Archives Researchers’ Area

I work in the Special Collections and Archives at Bishopsgate Institute. It is an independent, charitable institution which opened in 1895 to support people through a variety of adult education opportunities. From its outset the library has been an integral part of the Institute, initially as a public lending library, now as Special Collections and Archives, supplying material and inspiration for themes of many of its courses and events.

All our collections and archives are available for free, without any need to book an appointment or bring any ID. The library is reference only, but it is a freely accessible and open space which welcomes anyone to come and look at our collections in our Researchers’ Area.

Front Library Study Space

If you do not fancy using any of our fantastic collections (why would you not?!), we also have a gorgeous study space in our Victorian library surrounded by peace and quiet as a break from the hustle and bustle of central London.

I am the Librarian and am responsible for managing our user services and for the management and cataloguing of our printed collections – books, pamphlets, and journals.

What collections do you have? What does your library specialise in?

A selection from the Co-operative Movement Pamphlet Collection and Feminist Library Pamphlet Collection

We hold over 200,000 printed items and 800 archive collections. We have materials originating from the sixteenth century to the present day, though the emphasis is from the nineteenth century onwards. These collections include books, pamphlets, maps, journals, and ephemera. We also have extensive collections of press cuttings, manuscripts, photographs, and illustrations.

A selection from the Labour History Pamphlet Collection

Our second librarian, Charles Goss (librarian 1897 to 1941), established our collecting areas of London history, Labour history, freethought, and Humanism. In more recent years our collecting areas have expanded to include the Co-operative Movement, feminism and the history of protest and campaigning. Our collections reflect the ‘history from below’, social, political, and radical history.  Our London collection can, for example: give you the history of some of the most gorgeous architecture, take you on a trip down the Thames as part of a nineteenth-century boat tour, or provide you with an introduction to some of the notorious crimes, gangsters, and fascinating characters in London history. In our Labour History Collection, you can find the history of feminism, radicals, and trade unionism to name just a few examples.

You can find out about the history of a variety of trades, workers’ rights, and strikes. All of this and more are covered by our collections.

A selection from the LGBTQ+ Library Journals Collection

We are also home to the most comprehensive and accessible special collections and archives on LGBTQ+ histories in the UK. We hold a growing kink, fetish, and erotica library. We are committed to recording hidden histories and to preserving histories of protest and radicalism.

One of my main projects currently is the cataloguing our LGBTQ+ Library journals collection and ensuring that they are all accessible and discoverable on our online catalogue. Our holdings are approximately 2,000 LGBTQ+ journals, which date from around the 1950s onwards. This collection includes a large range of genres which broadly comprise lifestyle, campaigns, politics, and culture. We have well-known titles such as a ‘Gay News/Gay Times’, ‘Capital Gay’, ‘Diva’, ‘The Pink Paper’, ‘Transliving’ and ‘Beaumont Society Newsletter’ along with rare and more specific journals such as ‘The Gay Vegetarian Gazette’, ‘Physique Pictorial’, ‘Quim’, ‘Radical Deviance’, and ‘Original Plumbing’. It is a wide-ranging collection with an international reach and appeal with journals from Europe and the USA.

We have an extensive book collection in the LGBTQ+ Library on a wide range of topics – from guides to comic collections, general histories, other information sources and literature. These holdings began with material in the original deposit of the library of the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive in 2011 and over the last ten years has expanded considerably with numerous deposits from individuals and organisations.

We hold a substantial amount of LGBTQ+ erotic and pornographic literature, including books, magazines, and pulp fiction. There is also adult material relating to gay and straight fetish, leather, and rubber sexuality, BDSM, body modification, and other alternative sexualities. Our collections are an important resource for the study of visual representations of gay and alternative sexualities from the 1950s to the present day.

What’s your favourite item from the collections? Why? Tell us a bit about it.

A selection from the London Pamphlet Collection

I am going to cheat a little and say my favourite collection is the London Pamphlets Collection – this collection is one of the first collections I catalogued and is filled with ephemera, pamphlets, maps, and other treasures that were my first introduction to the collections here. I love all our collections but being able to catalogue a mix of sixteenth-century and modern material sometimes in the same box was an absolute privilege! Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives are filled with fantastic treasures and material that we are very proud and privileged to provide a home for. We genuinely do have something for everyone to look at!

What’s new and exciting in your library? What have you got coming up?

After Lock-down and limited opening, it is fantastic to have people dropping in to see us again. Helping people with their research and seeing people using our collections are my favourite parts of my job.

Recently we have been donated the Terrence Higgins Trust archive which includes their entire library – the books have been amalgamated into our LGBTQ+ Library and can be found on our catalogue, the pamphlets and journals are in the process of being added – so watch this space. This archive and library are immensely important for the history of HIV/AIDS support, activism, and information in the UK and beyond.

Every day at Bishopsgate Institute is an exciting day – you never know what is going to come in and what material is going to be looked at by researchers. The Institute also has a lot of events and courses, so it is always worth following us on social media or signing up to our newsletter.

Our Special Collections and Archives Researchers’ Area is open Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm with a late opening on Wednesdays until 8pm. Our Front Library Study Space is open Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm. Find out more on our visitors page:

Ceri Thompson – Librarian

You can explore the library’s collections on Discover and find further contact details on their Discover information page.

All front cover images are copyright of the publishers of the journals and pamphlets; all collage images are copyright of the Bishopsgate Institute 2022

All library images are copyright of the Bishopsgate Institute, reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holder.

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